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Once again, France gets best of Brazil


FRANKFURT, Germany -- The question everyone was asking before the World Cup was whether Brazil could be beaten.

Yesterday, France had the answer.

After 11 straight Cup victories and three straight appearances in the Cup final, Brazil saw its quest for a sixth World Cup title end with a 1-0 quarterfinal loss to France.

Zinedine Zidane, whose free kick set up the go-ahead goal in Tuesday's 3-1 victory over Spain, once again delivered the game's key assist - this time to Thierry Henry.

In the 57th minute, Henry received Zidane's free kick with the inside of his right foot and volleyed it home at the far post for the score.

The Brazilians had just one shot on goal all game. Their porous defense was hardly better. The French eclipsed Brazil's galaxy of stars with crisp passing, aggressive tackling and superior play in the air. Ronaldo, Ronaldinho and Kaka were either invisible or inept.

In the final minutes, Brazil desperately pressed forward, with Ronaldinho surfacing at last and barely missing on a free kick. Two more attacks yielded nothing as France goalkeeper Fabien Barthez screamed at his teammates to hold on.

Barthez grabbed a floater by Lucio, and the clock ran out as he made his goal kick, setting off a wild celebration as France players mobbed each other while jumping in a circle.

As the vanquished and dazed Brazilians left the field, the French players headed to the corner where their fans were waving flags and taking pictures - and savoring a magnificent victory.

France will play Portugal on Wednesday in the semifinals, with the winner facing Tuesday's winner of Germany-Italy in the World Cup final next Sunday.

This will be the first all-European final four since 1982, when Italy, Poland, West Germany and France made the semifinals.

Brazil, a team led by a two-time FIFA Player of the Year (Ronaldinho) and the World Cup's all-time leading scorer (Ronaldo), was stunned by the loss.

"It was very difficult for us to accept this," Brazil coach Carlos Alberto Parreira said. "We were not prepared for this."

Brazil had reached the semifinals in 10 of the 17 previous World Cups. Before Tuesday's round-of-16 match against Ghana, Roberto Carlos confidently predicted an 11th appearance in the final four.

"Which team has won more titles than us?" Carlos said. "How many has Ghana won? I can't conceive for a second the idea of us losing. Then, we will play Spain, which will eliminate France. We'll make it through the semis, and in the final, we'll play Germany or Argentina."

Parreira, who was a 26-year-old fitness coach on the Pele-led 1970 Brazil team, often attempted to deflect the favorite's label away from his team. He once acknowledged that his main challenge would be to "make them hungry again."

But even Parreira at times fueled the fire. Six weeks before the World Cup, he announced his starting lineup if for no other reason than to show off his toys.

During the weeks leading up to the World Cup, Pele acknowledged that he had concerns about the team's "superior" status.

"When a national team is too superior than another technically, things can get out of control," Pele said. "The other team will enter the field knowing they have to play their best. They will play harder to try to overcome their disadvantage."

Playing harder has been a theme for France since it narrowly advanced from the group stages with one victory and two draws. Zidane threw his body around the field and dribbled by defenders early in yesterday's match, looking nothing like a 34-year-old midfielder set to retire after the World Cup.

Henry, who has a reputation for performing poorly in big matches, increased his goal total in the World Cup to three - equaling his total in the 1998 World Cup. In fact, France's coach in 1998 chose not to play Henry during the victory over Brazil in that final.

The Arsenal forward insisted that yesterday's victory was not "lucky."

"We didn't steal anything from anybody," Henry said. "We had a tactical plan and it worked perfectly. ... This victory is the stuff of dreams. Now we want to go all the way."

For France coach Raymond Domenech, the semifinal appearance should silence those who criticized his team early in the event.

"Maybe we started the tournament slowly," Domenech said, "but the teams that were playing well at the start of the tournament are now watching it on TV."

Luis Arroyave writes for the Chicago Tribune. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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